#828 OC6: Tested’s Norm Chan on OC6 highlights & the Future of XR input

Tested editor Norm Chan has been covering the evolution of Virtual Reality since seeing a early prototype of the Oculus Rift at CES 2013, which was after the initial debut at E3 2012 & the successful Kickstarter in August 2012. So Chan has been reviewing virtual reality hardware consistently for nearly seven years now, and has attended all of the Oculus Connect gatherings. When I attended GDC in 2015, I didn’t have a press pass and was unable to get in to see a demo of the HTC Vive that was showing at the Vive booth, and so I eagerly watched Chan & Will Smith deconstruct their experiences with what was hottest demo at GDC 2015.

I had a chance to talk to Chan at Oculus Connect to hear about some of his highlights from the conference, as well as some of his thoughts on the future of XR input. He covers a lot of other topics on technology as well as the maker culture, special effects, niche communities and pop culture gatherings like ComicCon. We talk about some of the VR games that he really likes to play, as well as his interest in immersive theater and the future of experiential entertainment. We also talk a bit about why he doesn’t cover issues around design ethics or privacy as they’re more focused on the technological road map and engineering tradeoffs.


Here’s some of Chan’s Oculus Connect 6 coverage for Tested

Oculus Link and Oculus Horizon Hands-On Impressions!

Oculus Quest Hand Tracking Demo and Impressions!

Live from Oculus Connect 6!

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond VR Hands-On!

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So continuing on of my series of looking at some of the highlights from Oculus Connect 6, today's episode features Norm Chan. He's one of the editors at Tested. who really focuses more on the hardware and the tech specs and you know he's often there trying out all the new gear talking to the engineers and talking about the different trade-offs and design decisions and so I had a chance to talk to Norm about his process and his journey into virtual reality and you know, kind of what is really motivating him to be able to cover all these new emerging technologies. And to also talk about some of his other interests, because he actually covers quite a lot of other conferences and content as well, and not just VR, but is usually there on the front lines, putting out some of the first videos, the first impressions and different conversations and interviews as well. So we talk about some of our impressions and highlights from Oculus Connect and the evolution of the VR industry as a whole on today's episode of Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Norm happened on Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 at the Oculus Connect 6 conference in San Jose, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:25.815] Norm Chan: I'm Norm Chan, I'm one of the editors at Tested, we're a website and YouTube channel, probably best known for working with Adam Savage and showcasing a bunch of his projects, but also in the VR space, we're all gearheads, so we've been covering VR on the hardware side for the past, gosh, what is it, six, seven years now, since the DK1, and really loving following the journey of what this generation of VR looks like.

[00:01:53.458] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the Oculus Rift had the Kickstarter in 2012, released in 2013. And so this is Oculus Connect 6. Have you been to all six of the Connects?

[00:02:01.762] Norm Chan: I have. I have. It's very different. Different every year. I think the last two or three years feel very similar in San Jose, but definitely a little bit of a different vibe from when it was down in LA. And obviously, there's a change in leadership, and new people, and a little bit more of a Facebook presence. No pun intended, but it's always one of our favorite conventions of the year.

[00:02:22.253] Kent Bye: Yeah, mine too. This is my sixth as well. And it's been amazing just to see the progress and evolution of VR. But before we dive into sort of what's happening now, I want to sort of just take a step back and get a bit more context as to you and what's your background and what's your journey into looking at these immersive technologies?

[00:02:40.286] Norm Chan: I think my journey is really just being interested in new tech, right? Like I came from the magazine days, so I did video game magazines. How long ago was that? 20 years ago? So I worked for PC Gamer, then Maximum PC Magazines. My editor there, Will Smith, we left to form Tested in 2010, really kind of the hockey stick moment for mobile tech, you know, right after iPhone came out with tablets. and also with technologies like 3D printers and drones, and found an opportunity to cover that stuff. And one of those emerging technologies that we were really interested in was virtual reality, and timing was perfect. Obviously, the journey of VR and what made the DK1 possible is the commoditization of those IMUs and displays from things like smartphones. And so just being at the forefront of that, and every year it feels like we're still at the forefront of something because it's, like they say, the early days.

[00:03:35.153] Kent Bye: Have you been able to see any tech demos here at Oculus Connect?

[00:03:39.134] Norm Chan: No hardware demos, so I haven't done the hand tracking yet. We did get a chance to use the Link, the Oculus Link, which is, of course, the ability to pipe the desktop VR onto the Quest. And I got to use Horizons to do that demo. Those are the big three announcements.

[00:03:56.561] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think I'll get to try the Horizons tomorrow. And to me, I like to be at Oculus Connect and just talk to people, see what's happening, see what the developers are saying. But I think what you're doing with Tested is that it's like you're refining your own sense of perception and phenomenology. Because there's a bit of, like, new hardware comes out. You want to get a sense of, is it good? What's your experience of it? Maybe you could talk about your process of being able to perceive these technologies and to be able to see what you feel about them, to be able to talk about that, put language into that real time, and then kind of calibrate yourself to the larger industry.

[00:04:31.400] Norm Chan: I mean, we see ourselves from a journalist's perspective, we're avatars for our audience, right? And our audience isn't necessarily mainstream right or even hardcore gamers or audience or technology enthusiasts and these are people who are interested in this technology like VR and yes they want to know the specs and yes they you know in the first couple years they want to know things like FOV and displays and we still communicate that to them but they also want to know what are the engineers doing what are the things they're tapping into from a hardware from a software standpoint that's going to make The things we see in science fiction, reality, right? I think we're all inspired by the things we see in science fiction, and those are kind of North Stars for us, right? When we think of, you know, we use the analogy of 3D printers, right? When MakerBot came out with the Replicator, they called it the Replicator, and yet it wasn't with the Star Trek Replicator, but that shared language of, like, we're all big sci-fi fans, and we all have this hopeful view of what technology can do for the future, what's going to get us there, the slow progress and iterative processes are going to get us there. We want to be able to dissect the hardware to see if it's going to be possible.

[00:05:36.013] Kent Bye: And I'm just curious, throughout the course of your day at home, are you playing VR? Are you playing games? Are you consuming the content? I'm just trying to get a sense of if it's just pure technological, or if you're also immersed and engaged in the VR as a medium day-to-day.

[00:05:51.343] Norm Chan: 100%. And there's so much new content that's out that we don't have the opportunity to try everything. But we love new games. experiment with new mechanics or bring something new to VR, right? So what the folks at Servios have been doing, we love following what they do with the locomotion they do with Sprint Vector, or the kind of funky stuff they've done with Battlewake, and even with the boxing games, like, yes, there's the game and entertainment aspect to it, but from our perspective, like, what are they pushing in terms of interaction that's new? That's why we're so thrilled when we played, you know, Echo Arena and Lone Echo for the first time a couple years ago, because they were really doing something new with VR. And obviously there's like the AAA stuff, you know, Medal of Honor was announced at OC6 and we played that. Yeah, that's great and I think essential for VR, but for me, a little bit less interesting because they're not pushing the boundaries. They're kind of filling a need for VR in terms of a high-budget AAA game and experienced developers. But we're always looking for VR experiences that are going to push the boundaries of interaction. And so we do a lot of that. Personally, I play a lot of Pavlov, honestly, lately. I love what the user community has done with that. Not just like the Counter-Strike angle to that, and I love that because it has this great analogy to early days of PC gaming. It really is like, you know, it's funny, we have Medal of Honor coming out soon for VR, and we have Medal of Honor, you know, what was it? 15 years ago or more, I always saw it on the PC, and it felt like a big watershed moment for PC gaming in terms of the epic scale. And we have Pavlov and Onward, which feel like the grassroots indie Counter-Strike model, and user-made maps, and the gameplay there, the interaction stuff there is really fun, but really it's the social stuff that comes out of it. The people playing the TTT mod, or making their own zombie mods, and kind of like the emergent social aspect. That's what I love out of those games.

[00:07:39.389] Kent Bye: Well, I know that you were doing Tested for a while now. There's Projections. Maybe you could talk a bit about when Projections as a series came about, maybe a little bit more of the context and back story of that.

[00:07:49.480] Norm Chan: Yeah, yeah. So Projections is our semi-regular show now. We used to do it weekly. but a show about VRAR that I do with my co-host Jeremy Williams, who is also a co-host on the podcast we do, This Is Only a Test. And I've known Jeremy forever. He actually is more into VR, I think, than even I am. He's the one who backed the DK1 before us, and one of the few reasons we had the DK1 when we did our first video with it years ago. And I want to say, like, two, three years ago now? I mean, we've been following VR for a long time, but we decided to do a weekly show to see if we could do it, right? Can we make regular content on a weekly basis for VR enthusiasts, VR and AR, as, at that point, I think, Touch had just come out, I want to say. CV1 is out, Rift was out already, but Touch was obviously a big moment, and there was a lot of that first generation of content, and so we did that as kind of like a, can we do a weekly show? Can we talk about VR for half an hour, and really spun out of a segment, the VR Minute, that we did on our podcast, And Germany's got a little busier now, so I think we're at, like, 91 episodes, and so we do it a little more irregularly, obviously, with OC6. We have, like, three episodes this past week, so we find the right opportunities to do it, but it's really a chance to keep up, you know, not only to keep the audience informed, but to make sure that we're informed as well, because we're pushing ourselves to make sure we're covering as much as we can.

[00:09:07.437] Kent Bye: Well, I think that it feels like the whole immersive industry, both for virtual reality, augmented reality, it's still very nascent. So it feels like it's a very niche. And so how have you been able to justify or sustain the type of coverage you're doing? Is there a larger infrastructure there? Or if these were self-contained shows, would you be able to do that? Or I'm just trying to get a sense.

[00:09:27.271] Norm Chan: Yeah, we talk about it all the time. I think we're really fortunate that we have the flexibility on the editorial side to pursue the topics that we want. And people ask, what is tested? What do you cover? What type of videos do you make? We can say we make videos of Adam Savage, and that's a big part of it. And we do these to cover maker culture, and emerging technologies, and review gear. And these are all parts of it. You know, we're not just one thing. We feel like as long as our audience loves in general what we do, and there are people who love the VR videos, there are people who love the Maker videos, there are people who love both of those, and there are people who want to critically think about hardware and critically think about what type of tech will get us toward that future and get people making things, right? A lot of interesting intersections, like we Venn. We say, like, these things, these topics, Venn. Create a nice Venn diagram of what we cover. We're very fortunate to be able to do that. If we were to spin off, and I know a lot of people make YouTube channels dedicated to VR, and they cover VR. Like, we're big fans of what Ben at Road to VR is doing, what Ian and his team are doing up at Upload, because they're in the weeds, you know, day to day. And we look to them for some direction for coverage as well, and we try to complement them on the video side. But if we were to do it as a dedicated thing, I don't know. I honestly don't know. Maybe a Patreon or something like what you're doing, right? It's not necessarily something I would want to do full-time because my interests are so varied. But we're able to do it. The audience likes it now. And if it was to end tomorrow, that's how it would be.

[00:10:56.003] Kent Bye: Well, for me, doing the Voices of VR podcast, I really prefer to go to these conferences, talk to people face-to-face, and have that embodied experience. Not only see the demos, because it's very hard to see the demos remotely, but also to have the conversations in the hallway, just like we're doing here now at Oculus Connect 6. But there's a bit of a cycle for each year that I have my own sort of conferences I go to anywhere from 15 to 20 a year, sometimes more. But what's the kind of cycle for you that starting in January, where does it kind of begin and go through the big events of the year for what you cover?

[00:11:27.679] Norm Chan: So obviously CES, that's the big thing. You know, 20-year veteran of CES. So love going to that. It's changed very much, right? And that was the place, that was the first place I used. Oculus, right? First time I chatted with Nate Mitchell way back in a hotel suite to demo that. There's some interesting, a lot of interesting third-party stuff that comes out of there, some like, you know, things that may not be mainstream, but a lot of interesting devs working on cool experimental hardware, experimental controllers. I love doing that. Then it kind of diversifies from the tech stuff, like My Big Pillars, There's CES, there's, for me, there's like makeup and special effects conferences, I go to the Monsterpalooza. In the spring, there's, oh god, we go to, honestly, at least one every month. Maker Faire, which obviously may not be, but that was a big thing in May that we would go to. E3 in June, San Diego Comic-Con in July, Augmented World Expo around the same time, a Lego conference thrown in there. Sometimes there's like the oddball Steam Train conference I will go to, drive into Sacramento and go to that. You know, like these niche conferences. What I love about something like Oculus Connect is that it's You know, yeah, it's a big conference with hundreds of thousands of people here, but they're all very passionate about one topic. And I love finding the conferences that are people who are passionate about the one thing. And if it's something that I'm either curious about and would love to learn about because it's something like steam, like scale model steam trains, that's amazing. But if it's something like special effects, where there's interesting intersections with you know, movies I'm a big fan of, then I love going to that. And then later in the year, there are things like DesignerCon, and that's, you know, vinyl toys, and people who kind of make their own custom toys. That's in November. Big fan of that. I just went to another effects conference on Monsterpalooza two weeks ago, so we're kind of constantly traveling. Next week, I'm in New York Comic-Con, so we're everywhere.

[00:13:18.451] Kent Bye: in San Diego Comic-Con as well. There seems to be a lot of immersive experiences. And I'm just curious if you've been starting to get into something like immersive theater, because it feels like there is going to be more and more of these immersive experiences that you may see at Comic-Con. There seems to be theatrical components. So I'm just curious if you're covering that at all.

[00:13:36.136] Norm Chan: I am a huge fan of immersive theater. There was an experience in San Francisco, closed recently, called The Speakeasy. I've been there four times, and that was time-traveling. It's 1923 San Francisco, under Chinatown, a speakeasy with a huge cabaret bar, a four-hour long experience. It was like walking into a time portal, and it's what I hope, like, you know, VR can do some of that, and one of my favorite things was Invisible Hours, which was the immersive theater storytelling aspect in VR, you know, watching a performer, I'm kind of actually bummed that there aren't more immersive theater experiences for VR. You know, I did Westworld, which server was put out, and that was a little more of a straightforward adventure game. And one of my hopes was, you know, the idea of Westworld is immersive theater. And like, that was an opportunity to get performance capture and do immersive theater using the Westworld theme as a VR experience. I saw that as maybe something later to come. Sleep No More, New York, you know, from big and small. I'm a big fan of the, and Escape Rooms, you know, that is a flavor of immersive theater.

[00:14:37.096] Kent Bye: Well, at the Sundance this year, Tender Claws with Sundance had shown The Under Presents, which actually had live immersive theater actors, and it's sort of an adventure game. And they've been working on it. I think it's going to be coming out sometime within the next couple months, perhaps. We'll see when it actually gets released. I know they've been working on it for a long, long time. But I'm just curious if you've thought about going to things like Sundance or Tribeca or South by Southwest or Venice. Things that are a little bit more of the cinematic side, but are starting to blend a lot of what I'm seeing from immersive theater and other aspects of storytelling. But those are, for me, my favorite conferences to go to cover just to see what the storytellers are doing with experiences that you may not get to see anywhere else. They're very ephemeral. But if you've had a chance to see any of those other conferences here.

[00:15:20.640] Norm Chan: If I had that opportunity, I would beat all of those, right? But of course, travel's expensive. We used to do South by Southwest, and I think that if we were to go back to one of those, South by Southwest would be the first one to go back to. I love seeing the stuff coming out of there that may not be possible as viable as a business for location-based experiences or even in the home, but from an artistic standpoint, the fact that they get to do those on location for a festival and do that performance. It is very much like theater. Theater is limited run. I'm a big theater person. I watch a lot of theater in San Francisco whenever I'm in New York. I want to be in more places where they're doing mixed media, doing immersive media with both physical locations and also in headset.

[00:16:03.370] Kent Bye: Well, if you have a chance to see The Key here, I highly recommend it, especially in an installation context, because it actually won the StoryScapes at Tribeca and won at Venice. So it's playing here. I highly recommend it. And it's going to be coming out for people. I did an interview with Celine Tricot, kind of unpacking what she's doing with Dreams and DreamLogic. Very fascinating. But I guess for you, what do you see as the things that get you the most excited around VR? Because then, as we talk about immersive theater and artificial intelligence, and there's all sorts of, like, What seems to me like a confluence of so many different haptics and technological innovation of sound, computer vision, being able to track your fingers and your full body. So is there anything that gets you personally really excited as to what you see as kind of the next steps in immersive technologies?

[00:16:48.129] Norm Chan: I think input. Input is... Input is, there's so much room to grow in input, right? And I haven't used the hand tracking demo yet. I've used things like Leap Motion in the past, and the gesture stuff you've seen in some of the AR. But I can't wait to see what input looks like five years from now. Their acquisition of Control Labs, and their CEO did a talk, I think at Slush was the conference, late last year. And the idea that you can infer intention and train your body to communicate this input device that you are not physically interacting with. It really is about intention. I could see that being very, very powerful. We get glimpses of that with hand-track controllers now, but you need buttons right now. You need triggers, you need things, and you need gestures. But to combine gestures with very, very small movements, I think that's going to be really essential going forward.

[00:17:41.323] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to talk to one of the people that were working at Control Labs, talking about the EMG. It sounds like they're able to isolate down to single motor neurons to be able to actually move your muscles. But then there's a whole other aspect of brain control interfaces and be able to actually read your thoughts, read your mind. There's things like SIGGRAPH, where you see demos like Neurable. And then MindMaze is also doing a lot of stuff within the medical context. But for me, there seems to be a deeper context of the ethics around brain control interfaces. I think today, as Mark Zuckerberg was up on stage and announced that they had just acquired Control Labs and that they have these neural interfaces. And he's like, yeah, we're going to be able to read your mind. And he's sort of saying it like, this is going to be an amazing thing. And I think there was a bit of a hush in the room. Like, I don't know about that we want you to read our minds. So just curious how if, like, because for me, there's a lot of deep ethical implications and privacy implications. I know you're focusing on a lot of the hardware and the technology and the tech specs and sort of your phenomenological experience of it. But just curious where the ethics and where privacy comes in for you as you sort of talk about the larger context of these technologies.

[00:18:49.787] Norm Chan: Yeah, 100% is a concern, right? I mean, it's one of those things that is the subtext for the entire keynote, right, with all the input. I mean, everyone takes eye-tracking for granted. You don't even need to read people's mind. Eye-tracking can read your mind for you with all the subtle movements. Like, there's so much you can infer with eye-tracking. But we all take it as a granted that it's essential for things like the varifocal, and we want that. That's where this is conflict. We want We want accommodation versions to be solved. We want varifocal, all the things that Michael Abrash talks about. It's super exciting to us. And we can't just trust that the privacy implications are going to be resolved. We're probably not the best people to fight for that. And there are a lot of great people doing that. But it is totally a concern for us.

[00:19:30.974] Kent Bye: Why not? Why are you not the best? I was questioning that.

[00:19:34.557] Norm Chan: No, no. And we have a platform. And talking about it is one thing. But there's a legal side to it. And there's a lot of UX and UI considerations. I think there are solves to it. And I think that the sentiment in the public will force them to address it. It's not going to be a take it or leave it. I don't think that we're all going to blindly click that I agree checkbox when those things come. I do think there's a big difference between clicking that for using for touch interface and clicking that I agree for using eye tracking. And I think that the awareness will push them to address it. And I don't know where we're going to fall in terms of comfort. And I do think a lot of people are going to be fine with it and trust. But it's happening now everywhere, with the web pages you read and the phones you use. And we've got to solve that, too.

[00:20:24.930] Kent Bye: So I know there's a lot of developer conferences. Were you able to be at F8 at all?

[00:20:28.975] Norm Chan: No. So that's one that we weren't able to go to.

[00:20:31.440] Kent Bye: OK, so I was here at F8. I cover VR, and so I'm here at F8. I try to go to, like, Microsoft Build and Google I-O and Magic Leap, LeapCon, other sort of developer-centric conferences. But at F8, you know, Mark Zuckerberg's up on stage, and he says, the future is private. right? And then cut here six months later or so to Oculus Connect 6, and there's, like, no sort of big emphasis on privacy at all. So for me, I guess I don't have faith that unless there's more journalists and more people actually pressuring and asking these questions that they just sort of are going to move forward without even mentioning it. So, so many different aspects of like recording your entire home and we're getting into this realm where it's like, oh yeah, and this is the thing, like the future is going to be amazing and this is what we're doing. But I think without that pause of like really looking at it, I feel like it's dangerous to. repeat a lot of the mistakes that were made for previous iterations of technology without really questioning it along the way. So I don't know. I just feel like there's a bit of a moral responsibility for everybody in this industry to start to ask those questions and try to look at things as holistically as we can and to start to interrogate things a little bit.

[00:21:37.395] Norm Chan: Totally, totally. And part of that's awareness. Some of it's market-driven, right? I think they will respond if people stop using it because of this. then they'll maybe make it more private. I think you see companies like Apple really pushing for that as a business position. Obviously, they make money differently. And I think that hopefully the market will push them to make it not profitable if they don't give you some semblance of privacy.

[00:22:03.616] Kent Bye: So for you, what are some of the either biggest open questions that are driving your curiosity or open problems that you're trying to solve with the work that you're doing?

[00:22:14.155] Norm Chan: I don't have problems to solve, but things that drive me, I mean, the thing that Boz talked about, creating the layer of the world, you know, a little bit of the AR talk, that stuff, we hear from Magic Leap a lot as well, in terms of, like, the extra semantic layer of reality and mapping the world that's going to be a part of it. Like, that stuff is right at what you're talking about. It's immediately fascinating, but also concerning. And it taps a part of my brain where I'm really curious about how they're going to do it from the tech side. And then also, who owns it? Who owns it? And if it's not going to be Facebook, is it going to be Magically? Is it going to be Google? and Google, which no longer has the model of do no evil. I don't know what the scenario is in a world that we want these technologies, but we don't want one corporation to own them. What is the world where we all own this ourselves, too?

[00:23:07.908] Kent Bye: Let's say I go to other conferences like the Decentralized Web Camp and Decentralized Web Summit put on by the Internet Archive because that's where a lot of these discussions about architects of the internet like Tim Berners-Lee are there talking about solid or talking about like the future decentralized architectures that start to get into a little bit more of like the blockchain or the future of mesh networks or decentralized technologies. But just curious if that sort of enters on your radar anywhere for like the future of decentralized architectures and self-sovereign identity or mesh networks or any sort of the movement towards trying to, in some ways, decentralize and decolonize the consolidation of power of technology?

[00:23:44.168] Norm Chan: It's not something we've thought a lot about in terms of related to the metaverse, for example, but definitely in terms of information and being where information exists and persists. When you're talking about the Internet Archive, we think of information on the Internet as lasting forever, but it's really not. And there are censorship concerns and things that don't last. And so I really admire the efforts of the folks at Interarchive, both on the digital side and the physical archive of the world. They have that whole collection of books that they have locked up somewhere in the Bay Area. But what does the Library of Alexandria look like for the digital age? That's super interesting to me.

[00:24:22.309] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of spatial computing might be, and what it might be able to enable?

[00:24:30.151] Norm Chan: God, that's a, I don't know. I don't know what the ultimate potential is. I think there's new potential that we don't realize and that I'm not realizing every time we see a new demo. The frameworks that we see a lot of the content being made to, you know, games, entertainment, that's the most easily understandable. But, you know, they're just barely scratching what VR means for social, you know, with something like Horizon. And I think that they're gonna, quickly run into a lot of the, you know, a lot of the interesting effects of social VR that companies like Rec Room have been working through, right, in their communities. And we're talking about at that scale of Facebook of however many users they have on their headsets or what their aspirations are for, you know, a billion people in headsets, we have no idea, right? That's both potential but also that's like, it's this terrifying idea of,

[00:25:27.440] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[00:25:31.942] Norm Chan: No, I just want to thank people for liking what we do. We don't get to do what we get to do if people don't watch it and enjoy it. And we're not necessarily the smartest people, but we like what we do, and we're enthusiastic about it. And we like the fact that we can communicate those experiences and help people out there who don't get a chance to go to these conferences get a sense of what it's like to be here.

[00:25:55.522] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I just want to thank you for all the work that you've been doing. I know there's been instances where I haven't been able to go to conferences. And I really appreciate the ability to be able to have these experiences in real time, give your thoughts on things. And yeah, just thank you for doing that and also for joining me today on the podcast. So thank you.

[00:26:10.756] Norm Chan: Absolutely. And thank you for the Voices of VR podcast. It's amazing how many people you've been able to chat with and all the insight. I listen all the time.

[00:26:18.604] Kent Bye: Thanks, Ken. Awesome. Thank you. So that was Norm Chan. He's one of the editors at Tested and we talked about some of the highlights from Oculus Connect 6. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, I really respect a lot of the work that Norm has done. He's really out there on the front lines covering a lot of the first look hardware. I remember back at GDC in 2015, I wasn't able to get in and to see the HEC Vive demo and You know norm and will were there they did a demo they had a video up pretty quickly and I remember Watching the video because I was like, I can't see the hardware I want to know everything about it because I was there still doing interviews and so there's these moments like that where uh, definitely been listening to a lot of their interpretations also, they will do these deep dives and really into the text backs and over time I felt like what Norm was doing with Tested, as well as what Ben Lang of Road to VR, which I personally think is probably one of the most comprehensive tech reviewers that are out there, really diving in and digging in and seeing all the different hardwares, doing these multi-page write-ups, and he's been doing it since way back in like 2011. I mean, this is way before the Oculus Kickstarter. Road to VR for him was really like this vision of moving into VR, and I think he's been a huge pioneer in this space. But I think Norm has also been one of those people that have just continued to show up and see a whole wide range of different technologies. And so he's got the phenomenological experiences of seeing all the different differences of the different technologies. And that is huge to be able to kind of build up that sense of repository and to be able to have the language to be able to describe it and to talk about the nuances of the screen door effect or whatnot. And then over time, I feel like for me personally, that there's going to be a certain amount of the technology that is going to be a commodity. But, you know, it's still important for the journalistic feedback to be able to talk about the nuances of the technology. And I think over time, that's been not something that I've focused on personally, but I really respect the way that Norm has really kind of cultivated that sense. both the language and the perceptual input to be able to describe things in such a detailed way. I know that when I was looking at something like the valve index and talking to Ian Hamilton, where you see the technology and you have to kind of like base upon what other people are seeing as well. And so I feel like norms are part of this cohort of folks that, you know, I look to and listen to in order to help calibrate my own sense of the different technologies and where it's all going. And, uh, yeah, it was just interesting to get a little bit of his background and they are very much specifically focused on the technology and the hardware and motivated by the sci-fi dreams of what kind of future we're going to be going into and where is that going to lead us and looking at more of the technological infrastructure and the different trade-offs. So I guess if there was one thing that I would want to see a little bit more would be to talk about some of these deeper ethical and privacy issues because I think there is a certain point where The actual hardware and the technology is not in isolation of the deeper ethics and the business model and economics and the legal aspects I mean, I feel like tested is looking at the hardware specifications and that's important for the consumers but I think it's also important to try to bring in the larger context of some of these deeper questions and I there's a sense where Norm is really helping and relying upon the market dynamic, that there's gonna be market pressure, that people are gonna be demanding different aspects of privacy, but in the absence of having Facebook being pressured by other journalists beyond just myself, other journalists within the VR industry, everybody's actually kind of like demanding that we get different answers to these things, and that's actually gonna also be a forcing function for them to think about things that maybe aren't being thought about, and I feel like that is just a part of the role of this type of independent journalism, especially with something that's so niche and hasn't really caught the attention of some of the larger newspapers that are, you know, we don't have the New York Times or Washington Post or other newspapers that are there asking these questions. They've kind of relegated a lot of this journalism to these independent creators like Road to VR, Upload VR, Tested myself and you know, obviously they're seen at and a whole range of major mainstream press but you know in terms of what the audience is really looking to in terms of the influencers and people that they're they're trusting in terms of people that have been in the industry since the beginning and Cultivated a refined sense of perception to be able to take in all this different technology and to be able to actually put language to make sense of it So yeah, I would say that if it is going to come from awareness, then it also, there's a bit of a moral responsibility for the larger industry of the journalists and other press to be able to also be asking a lot of these questions as well. And that it's not just going to magically happen. I think he's right in the sense that there may be some point at which there's going to be a point where the audience is demanding it, but that may also come from other market pressures with like something like Apple. providing a solution that is more focused on the hardware where they can pay for privacy. So, you know, maybe the market will show that there are people that want that and that Facebook will be forced to consider these other alternatives. I think, you know, talking to Neil Trevitt, I referred to a conversation I had with him back in 2015. You know, he said, every successful open source standard has some sort of proprietary competitor. And I think usually the proprietary competitor comes first. And so I think that it may actually be a part of the evolution of these things where we do have these more closed walled garden proprietary approaches that have to prove out the value of some of these things. And so maybe we need to see what it means to be able to have a AR cloud whether it's from Google or Facebook or from Magic Leap whoever ends up doing it and then there's these like kind of open source alternatives whether it's like in just in terms of mapping there's like open street map as opposed to some of the Google Maps so it takes approving out of having a direct experience of some of these things before there's like more of a decentralized or open alternative and so I expect the same thing to kind of play out within the AR sphere with the AR cloud and some of those technologies and that I It probably will end up being something that is owned and proprietary by a single company, but eventually we'll get to the point where there's an open decentralized alternative that is out there that maybe have a little bit more aspects of freedom to enable more freedom for the user, but at the cost of maybe a little bit more fragmented ecosystem or a little bit less of a good of a user experience. So, uh, I was just fascinated to hear a little bit more about Norm's background and his journey, starting into like, uh, covering video games from these different magazines and to really getting into like both maker culture, as well as looking at special effects and a lot of these other different conferences that he goes to like CES, which is, he's been going to for 20 years now, which is where he first saw Oculus rift and sees a lot of the more experimental hardware. Some of the stuff that's out there is CES is I think a lot of these hardware startups that you know They have their one opportunity to kind of you know show these things and try to get these enterprise clients and so you end up seeing things there that it's a little bit more of a Lower signal-to-noise ratio where there's just a lot of stuff that may be the only time that these companies ever show anything because they end up folding after that. What I was seeing when I went there in 2017 was that just there was like a whole wide variety of different levels of quality. Some gems that were hidden in there, but the signal and noise was pretty low for my taste. And so CES is a huge conference that has hundreds of thousands of people and it's spread out all over Las Vegas. It's a whole thing. And I tip my hat to Norm for being there for over 20 years now, but it's definitely not necessarily my jam. much prefer to go to things like Sundance or Tribeca, South by Southwest or Venice to look at more of the content side rather than what's happening in the hardware side. But also the makeup and special effects and augmented world expo, Comic-Con, the Lego conference, you know, a whole wide variety of different conferences. And just to see how he's been able to, you know, focus in on all these different passions and to kind of make it all cohere with all the different stuff that they're doing at Tested. And yeah, just to see also that he's very into immersive theater. And I do expect to see more of immersive theater blend over into virtual reality. There's an experience called 1111 that's from sci-fi that I think has a lot of inspirations from immersive theater. He mentioned Invisible Hours. And then of course there's The Under Presents by Tender Claws and Piehole. That's an Oculus production that I got to see a stink preview during Sundance and private screening there. And so I'm looking forward to seeing once that gets out and seeing how you are able to do like professional actors or Ractors that are doing these immersive theater types of experiences with an experience that's going to be on the Oculus Quest. So definitely very much looking forward to see where that goes. And then finally, just looking at the future of input and to see how there's going to be so much more different types of input as we move forward from eye tracking and our biometric data and the EMGs and the neural interfaces, brain computer interfaces, and yeah, just how the continuation of computer vision and blending in with hand tracking and, you know, how are we going to end up tracking our feet and have full body inside out tracking? Um, actually did an interview with Ken Perlin. It's a project that he's working on tracking the feet and going into the virtual reality environment and be able to have these whole classrooms. And yeah, I agree that seeing where input goes as well as haptics and other tastes and smell and other aspects like that to get the full multimodal sensory experience within virtual reality, I think is going to be exciting to see where that ends up going. And yeah, I think just to see the input five years from now, I agree. Like, where's this going to be going higher fidelity of all the things that we've seen these prototypes for with. neural interfaces. And I think, you know, sensor fusion is the other thing. It's just kind of blending all these things together and also thinking about tablets and cell phones and all that as well. We don't really think about that as much, but yeah, really thinking about how to blend in the previous modalities that we're very familiar with and having those touch interfaces, I think may be able to get some of the precision input that I was talking about with Doug North Cook, talking about precision input in the future of where that is going as spatial computing input devices continue to progress. Accessibility is also a big issue around the input, because I think thinking from the lens of accessibility may actually provide new insights in terms of where the entire industry is going to end up going. So that's all that I have for today. 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